UK Release Date: 21st November 2013
Runtime: 146 minutes
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer: Simon Beaufoy, Michael deBruyn
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci
Synopsis: They survived the arena, but now Katniss and Peeta risk inciting rebellion, which leads the tyrannical President Snow to take drastic action.
The Hunger Games is a literary phenomenon. Tossing away lazy Twilight comparisons with a swing of its sword, Suzanne Collins’s trilogy of inflammatory young adult novels has already spawned one hugely successful film adaptation. In the shape of Catching Fire, the franchise is two for two.
After their success in the arena, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are living in the Victors’ Village with mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) where Katniss is still able to go hunting with friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Unfortunately, their act of defiance has stirred potential rebellion in the districts, which forces President Snow (Donald Sutherland) into sending a troop of past victors back into the arena, under the control of new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Catching Fire wastes no time in getting to the meat of its story. The audience is thrown straight into Katniss and Peeta’s ill-fated victory tour of Panem., showcasing the rebellion bubbling over in the districts outside the Capitol.
Whilst the first installment in the saga focused on the games themselves, Catching Fire has loftier goals in mind. It deals with the deeper ideas of Collins’s dystopia – an allegory of a totalitarian state that resorts to extreme means to maintain its control.
At the film’s centre is a remarkable performance from Jennifer Lawrence. She has won an Oscar since she last inhabited the world of Katniss Everdeen, and it shows in her confidence. This is an assured portrayal that not only gives the film a protagonist worth rooting for, but provides a powerful emotional centre.
Combined with much improved turns from Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and the rest of the reliably excellent returning cast, Lawrence’s complete inhabitation of Katniss really makes Catching Fire work. They don’t hand out big awards for tentpole blockbusters, but if they did, there would be no competition on that front.
Catching Fire echoes the structure of its predecessor, with the first half focusing on the build-up to the games, before the second half throws the audience into the arena. However, this time around, it feels as if the material was a little rushed to keep the runtime under two and a half hours. The film never outstays its welcome, even to the point where another half an hour would’ve been able to fix the pacing issues and wouldn’t have left it sagging.
New director Francis Lawrence has a real handle on the action sequences, not shying away from brutality and shock. Following the Empire Strikes Back formula to great effect, this is an even darker film than the first, focusing on the wide-ranging impact of the first film’s violence.
There is an oppressive, grim tone throughout, with the omnipresent threat that something terrible could happen at any time. With horror movie veteran Donald Sutherland creeping it up in a much-expanded role as President Snow, no-one is ever completely safe.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a tonal balance in Catching Fire. There are real moments of humour – including an uncomfortable public disrobing and Jennifer Lawrence’s ace physical reaction – and there’s even room for a beautifully executed horror movie jump scare.
Catching Fire throws absolutely everything at the screen, and most of it sticks.
Pop or Poop?
Catching Fire is definitely the sequel that The Hunger Games deserved. Bigger, but not necessarily better, it showcases Jennifer Lawrence at the height of her impressive powers and a rock solid supporting cast.
It has a few pacing problems and feels very much like the middle installment that it is in the franchise, but this barely holds it back.
Amongst this year’s fairly disappointing set of blockbusters, Catching Fire is right up there with the best. The odds are definitely in this franchise’s favour.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.